One year since Georgia's visa-free agreement with the EU: numbers and issues
One year ago Georgian citizens received the right to travel visa-free to Europe.
At 04:22 on the morning of 18 March 2017, an airplane departed Tbilisi International Airport for Poland. It’s passengers were the first citizens of Georgia to visit Europe visa-free.
According to information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, over the past 12 months, 192 453 Georgian citizens visited Europe visa-free. Only 1 001 Georgian citizens were refused entry to the EU.
The visa-free amendments were made along with a suspension mechanism, which may be implemented if Georgia violates its obligations with the EU.
Several months after the launch of the visa-free agreement, Georgia received its first warnings. Some European countries, in particular Germany, expressed their concern that the number of Georgian citizens applying for asylum status in the country had risen.
This is also confirmed by the government of Georgia. Tbilisi says that in 2017 the number of Georgian citizens seeking asylum abroad rose by 25% and that the trend continues in the current year:
From January to February 2018, the number of asylum applications in Austria had increased by 100%, writes Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Georgian citizens that try to get residential status in Europe generally name health as the reason for their departure.
Another factor that may threaten the existence of the visa-free agreement is an increase in the number of Georgian criminals in EU countries. Germany speaks often about this problem. In the beginning of March, German representatives arrived in Tbilisi and met with the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia. They told the Georgian side that Germany would be shortening the length of time it takes to examine applications for asylum status. The Georgian side said that it would immediately act and introduce a number of preventative measures and adopt legislative amendments.
On 6 March Georgia took its first step in this direction, and the procedure for changing an individual’s last name was made stricter for individuals who have violated the visa-free agreement and for that reason changed their last name.
Despite the existing problems, representatives of the Georgian authorities claim that at the moment nothing is threatening Georgia’s visa-free agreement with the EU.
“The actions being taken by the Georgian authorities are aimed at minimizing the number of violations of the visa-free agreement and to maximally protect the privilege that has been afforded our country. It is very important for every citizen to carefully and correctly assess this enormous achievement which our country has received,” said the PM of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili on 27 March while congratulating the population on the anniversary of the visa-free agreement.
• In the event that the EU finds Georgia in violation of the terms of the visa-free agreement, which are among others that a Georgian citizen can come to Europe only for 90 days during any 180 day period, and if the number of crimes committed by Georgians in Europe increases, the EU can activate the suspension mechanism. This would prevent Georgian citizens traveling to the EU visa-free, and would call for a re-examination of the agreement.